Are mobile phones and tablets ruining your child's development?

Are mobile phones and tablets ruining your child's development?

Are mobile phones, tablets and other electronic devices making your child smarter or are they stunting their development?

Written by Gayatri Ayyer |Updated : February 23, 2015 6:53 PM IST

Young children-smartphone-tabletToday, it's not uncommon to see almost every child or young adult (and not so young ones) hooked to smartphones or tablets, completely oblivious to their surroundings. Gayatri Ayyer, a counselling psychologist analyses the effects of gadgets on children.

I have lived in India, USA and Singapore and have seen people all around completely hooked to their electronic gadgets like smartphones, tablets and laptops without any awareness of their surroundings. This is the current sad picture around the world, children and adults spending more time on gadgets rather than with their friends and families.

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When the internet was introduced to the public around 10 years ago, it was considered a way that the world will come closer opening multiple opportunities for people to learn, form relationships and in general create a better connected, more informed world. Though the internet still retains its good qualities, with the increasing use of gadgets in children's lives in addition to no controls on internet usage, the net is becoming the root cause of a lot of behavioural, emotional and psychological problems in children. It has become a vehicle which allows children to download age-inappropriate games, spend a lot of time on social networking sites, even allows them access to pornography and this led them to forgoing spending on things like school work or playing outdoors.

Information age to blame for rising ADHD cases?

According to researchers, there has been an increase in the rate of diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. One of the causes for this is the escalation in the useage of gadgets in children shortly before bedtime, resulting in delay in time to go to sleep, and shorter sleep time. Another cause could be that since these children don't spend time outdoors, they're not being exposed to enough sunlight which can lead to various complications. Read: Understanding ADHD in children

Nothing like the great outdoors!

When we were kids, we spent time playing cricket outside, climbing trees or even playing with dolls with our friends. Our parents encouraged us to play outdoors rather than indoors; all this helped children develop skills like imagination, creativity, team spirit and problem solving. We became better at social adjustment as we had to solve our own problems or learn the art of waiting patiently for results. Watching TV was only on Sundays, when we watched He-Man, Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc. together as a family. Nowadays, when we suggest children play outdoors they give us blank incomprehensible looks!

Hooked to gadgets

If you look around you, you can see children as young as 6 months old, demand their parents' mobile phones, TV or tabs to be entertained during mealtimes or when the parents or caretakers are busy. This leads to a dependency on these electronic devices rather than playing with toys and games creating a deficit in their creativity, imagination and problem solving skills. Parents find it easy to give in to their children's demands for electronic devices rather than using affirmative discipline, indirectly encouraging inappropriate behaviours in their children.

No connection with the physical world

Recently, on a counselling discussion group I read that a child, who came into the play room, looked around and asked the counsellor where she kept the iPad or tab or if she had an android phone the child could play with. When the counsellor replied that the child could choose to play with any of the play materials (paints, play dough, dolls house etc.), the child looked confused. On talking with the child, she realized that the child had never played with paints or dough and had spent time playing only on these electronic devices. I have had similar experiences with my young nieces and nephews who know how to operate electronic devices with an expertise that may confound adults. But these same children find it difficult to converse in social settings or make appropriate decisions in the real world.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.

Not all devices are evil

I agree that electronic devices can be extremely useful to teach children a variety of things through applications (apps) or do research using the internet, but spending time only on these restricts their physical, mental and emotional growth. Children are spending less time with their parents in family activities or even with friends playing outdoors. What happens when due to electricity cuts or battery drain the device stops working? Or the device becomes outdated? We see temper tantrums, the lack of patience in children till a substitute can be found or a blank stare when we suggest them to think about how they can amuse themselves! Our children are becoming socially inept to deal with situations as they require immediate solutions it's easier to unfriend someone on their social network rather than work out the issues between friends.

I advise parents to think carefully, weigh the pros and cons of electronic devices before presenting them to their children. It's easy to think that giving the child a device will be beneficial to the child they can learn better and more using apps, save time going to the library for research and that they will not interrupt the parents' busy lifestyles. But later when children become addicted to these devices, it gives us a harsh warning about the psychological problems these children will face in their adulthood.

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